County Championship Division One, Guildford, Day 1 – Somerset 344 all out (Bartlett 137, Banton 44, Davies 41, C. Overton 40, Morkel 4-50, Dunn 3-85, Clarke 3-72) lead Surrey 0 for 0 by 344 runs.
George Bartlett hit a third career first-class century for Somerset to help his team out of a sticky situation and into a position of some strength on the opening day of this County Championship fixture against reigning champions Surrey at Guildford. Bartlett entered the fray with the score on 35 for three, was dropped first ball but enjoyed two stands of 95 runs with Tom Banton (44) then Steve Davies (41) to ease Somerset nerves and start the recovery process.
Surrey’s cause was aided by some late wickets which helped reduce Somerset from 298 for 5 to 344 all out. By the close of play the home team had yet to score with openers Mark Stoneman and skipper Rory Burns both happy to have their wickets still intact.
The two teams entered the game having enjoyed quite differing fortunes in this competition so far in 2019. Unbeaten Somerset – sitting comfortably in second-place and seven points behind Hampshire with a game in hand – had won three of their four games whilst Surrey were winless although, to offer some parity, had lost only one of their four games played.
Neither Lewis Gregory nor Josh Davey featured in the final 13-man squad due to injury and were replaced in the side by Jamie Overton – fresh from his early return from a loan spell at Northants – and Jack Brooks, who returned after injury.
And there was some drama before a ball had even been bowled. There had been some discussion by Somerset fans on the various social media platforms as to who should open the batting for Somerset with Marcus Trescothick struggling for form amid calls by some for Banton to replace him, but it was Trescothick’s established opening partner who was forced to sit this game out. Azhar Ali was withdrawn late after suffering from an acute throat infection and his absence meant there would indeed be a place in the side for one day hero Banton.
Somerset captain Tom Abell won the toss and opted to bat first, and it would be he who would open the innings with Trescothick – an opening partnership last seen in 2015. Tres started the scoring with the first ball of the day flicking Morne Morkel over the slips for a boundary.
But the wickets started falling after the away team had progressed steadily to 21. First Abell was caught at third slip from a rising Morne Morkel delivery for 5 in the 7th over before Trescothick edged a late-cut and was caught behind off Clarke for 18. Somerset were 27 for 2 at this stage.
James Hildreth continued his run batting at number 3 but his time at the crease was brief too, and he fell LBW to Dunn for 6. Somerset 35 for 3 as Bartlett and Banton came together.
And it could, and indeed should, have been 35 for 4 as Bartlett survived being dropped by Rikki Clarke before scoring, and he played and missed a few times early on, but he was soon in his stride and batting confidently. Banton struck his first ball for four off his legs and looked very composed. The two complimented each other and calmed proceedings down before taking the attack to the home team as Somerset entered the interval at 100 for 3 from 31 overs with Banton 42 and Bartlett 25. By now it was raining and was very windy at Woodbridge School.
Banton added just two more after the break before being caught in the gully to a rising delivery from Dunn, meaning Somerset were 130 for 4. His 44 runs included nine four’s and were 7 more than he totalled in three innings’ in 2018. It was a really nice knock from the youngster.
But Bartlett found another willing partner in Steve Davies and there would be no more wickets lost before tea. The first batting point was gained when Bartlett smashed every Somerset supporters’ favourite Gareth Batty for a six. He ultimately went to three figures just before the break after 156 balls including 13 four’s and one six with Somerset 214 for 4.
Davies was the fifth wicket to fall with the score on 225 bringing Craig Overton to the middle, and he batted well once again. He also hit Batty for a big six much to the delight of the large contingent of travelling Somerset fans.
George Bartlett went to his highest score for Somerset with a superb on-drive off Morkel in the 82nd over, beating the 133 he scored at Trent Bridge back in April. Surrey took the new ball shortly after.
When Bartlett departed at 298 for 6 the last few wickets fell quite quickly. There were useful contributions from Craig Overton (40) and brother Jamie (20) and Jack Brooks enjoyed some fun late on too. In the 92nd over Morkel ‘bowled’ Brooks only for the delivery to be deemed a no-ball. But it was all over the very next ball as Morkel snared his fourth wicket in the innings.
Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman each negotiated a maiden over before stumps were pulled and the opening day ended just about even-stevens.
Considering the poor start it was a fine performance by Somerset’s middle and late order. There will still be question’s about the top order after this poor showing and, once again, the opening partnership and Hildreth’s batting position will attract some attention. And it was a little frustrating that the team came within six runs of another batting point so registered just the three bonus points so far. But that wouldn’t be fair to those that turned this game around today.
And one must also consider that this is a hugely impressive Surrey bowling attack lead by Morkel and the ball was definitely moving a bit for the bowlers.
21-year-old Bartlett is now Somerset’s leading run scorer in the Championship having started the season not entirely sure of his place. But he has taken his opportunity and impresses more and more with each game.
In the morning Somerset will seek early wickets to test this more-than-useful Surrey batting line-up that has yet to really hit form this season. Game on!